Over the past week, the NBA’s plan to resume the 2019-20 season at Disney World in Orlando has started to face some serious opposition. Not only are players cautious about playing during a pandemic, but there is a group of players that believes returning to play would be a distraction from the unprecedented wave of protests that have sprung up after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police.
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving led a conference call of players from both the NBA and WNBA on Friday night, during which they discussed their thoughts on the rampant racial and social injustices in the country, as well as their options moving forward. Irving, notably, made it clear he does not think playing is a good idea, and said he’s “willing to give up everything I have (for social reform).”
There are those who agree with Irving’s line of thinking, including some who are hesitant to speak freely for fear of upsetting the league’s superstars. The Irving-led call was spurred in part because there’s a general feeling from many young and less notable players that their voice hasn’t been heard in discussions about restarting the season. At the same time, there are plenty of players who do want to get back on the court, and believe they can use that platform to help inspire change.
As we wait for the players to come to some sort of consensus on what they would like to do this summer, here is a look at some of the different viewpoints from players who have spoken out publicly in various forms of media.
Irving: ‘I don’t support going into Orlando’
Irving has been the most vocal about not playing the rest of the season. And as a superstar and vice president of the NBA PlayersAassociation, he holds plenty of influence. Here are just a few of his quotes from the conference call on Friday:
“I don’t support going into Orlando,” Irving said. “I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit. … Something smells a little fishy. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are targeted as black men every day we wake up.”
“There’s only 20 guys actually getting paid, and I’m part of that,” he continued. “Let’s not pretend there’s not a tiered system purposely to divide all of us.”
And finally, “I’m willing to give up everything I have (for social reform).”
At the same time, he made it clear he would support the rest of the group if others decided collectively that playing was the right thing to do. In short, he’s doing his job as a leader of the union.
Howard: Playing would be a distraction
Another big name who has come out against returning to play is Lakers center Dwight Howard. The big man has been rejuvenated playing alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis in Los Angeles, but even the chance to win his first title is not worth coming back in his eyes.
In a thoughtful statement released through CNN, Howard explained why he agrees with Irving.
“I agree with Kyrie (Irving). Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction. Sure it might not distract us the players, but we have resources at hand majority of our community don’t have. And the smallest distraction for them, can start a trickle down effect that may never stop. Especially with the way the climate is now. I would love nothing more than to win my very first NBA Championship. But the unity of My People would be an even bigger Championship, that’s just to (sic) beautiful to pass up. What better time than now for us to be focusing on our families. This is a rare opportunity that, I believe, we as a community should be taking full advantage of. When have we ever had this amount of time to sit and be with our families. This is where our Unity starts. At home! With Family!! European Colonization stripped us of our rich history, and we have yet to sit down and figure us out. The less distractions, the more we can put into action into rediscovering ourselves. Nations come out of families. Black/African American is not a Nation or Nationality. It’s time Our Families became their own Nations. No Basketball till we get things resolved.”
Rivers: Use salaries to help Black Lives Matter movement
On the other side of the argument, Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers took to Instagram to share why he disagrees with Irving and others. He argued that many players need the paychecks that would come with returning to play, and that in turn they could use some of that money to fund causes that would help people.
While Rivers applauds Irving for standing up for a worthy cause, he says players can still make a change without sacrificing the season or their careers.
“Us coming back would put money in all of our (NBA players’) pockets. With this money you could help out even more people and continue to give more importantly your time and energy towards the BLM movement. Which I’m 100% on board with. Because change needs to happen and injustice has been going on too long.
But also….. Not to mention there are plenty of NBA players I know who need them paychecks…. 99% of the NBA hasn’t made the money a guy like Kyrie has. Not to mention NBA basketball is predominantly African American… and a lot of our audience is too. Us providing entertainment and hope for kids is important. Also keeping SOME kids indoors and watching basketball games on tv instead of maybe going out and getting into trouble (due to the unfair and unequal environments a lot of African American kids are placed in) is important too.
NOT saying basketball is a cure for that but basketball can maybe provide a distraction. On another note….. Not to mention the ramifications of not playing with the TV money etc. CBA etc…. would really put NBA basketball behind. Possibly even cancelling next year.
I love Kyrie’s passion towards helping this movement, It’s admirable and inspiring. I’m with it … but not at the cost of the whole NBA and players’ careers. We can do both. We can play and we can help change the way black lives are lived. I think we have [to]! But canceling and boycotting [a] return doesn’t do that in my opinion. Guys want to play and provide and help change!!!!”
Temple: Earning paychecks will help fight systemic oppression
Garrett Temple, who plays with Irving on the Nets, and serves with him on the executive committee of the players association, is also in disagreement with his teammate. Much like Rivers, he wants players to get their money, and contends that earning millions of dollars is vital in closing the economic gap between white and black families.
He explained in an interview with ESPN that building generational wealth will help combat racial injustice, especially if players reinvest some of that money in their communities.
“The difference in the economic gap between white America and black America is astronomical. I can’t in good conscience tell my brethren to throw away millions of dollars in order to create change that I don’t see the direct impact of — if there was a direct impact of laws changing, that would be a different story.
So, when people bring up not playing — we are a few black men that can make a little bit of money. It is not a lot of money when [you] think about it in the grand scheme of America. But we can start having a little bit of money, create a little bit of generational wealth.
But the fact that us not playing will hurt our pockets, I don’t think that is the right way to go about it.”
Jackson: ‘Now ain’t the time’
Stephen Jackson is no longer in the league, but the George Floyd tragedy hit close to home for the retired champion. Jackson called Floyd his “twin,” and the two were close friends. Shortly after Floyd was killed by the police, Jackson was in Minneapolis holding a protest along with Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns.
Taking to social media, Jackson shared his thoughts on the situation, saying this isn’t the time to be thinking about basketball.
“I love the NBA man, that’s my family. But now ain’t the time to be playing basketball, now ain’t the time. Playing basketball’s gonna do one thing: take all the attention off the task at hand, what we’re fighting for. Everybody’s gonna be worrying about the playoffs, they’ll have all of that plastered all over the TV and nobody’s gonna be talking about getting justice for all these senseless murders by the police, and nobody’s gonna be focusing on the task at hand.
None of these white owners have spoken up. None of them are taking a stand. Yeah, they might post a video when the season starts saying what we should do, but they ain’t doing nothing. Playing basketball ain’t going to do nothing but make them money and take the attention of what we’re fighting for, what we’re marching for. It’s bigger than all of us, and it’s bigger than the game. It’s sad that we’ve still got to explain that to people, bro. It’s sad.”
The league is tentatively set to resume play in late July in Orlando, with 22 teams in attendance. They would all play eight regular season games before moving on to the playoffs, which are set to begin on Aug. 17. The NBA Finals are set to wrap up by Oct. 12.
But while the plan has been set, there’s still no guarantee that everything falls into place.